When I Am Sad

When I am sad, and the dark state of the world is weighing on me, I rely on a two-step system to get me out of my funk: I first retreat to my comfort read, Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals; and then I attend a Wealth & Giving Forum event, which shares philanthropic best practices and inspirational tales among wealthy families, so that they give smarter and better to charitable causes. This cool organization exists largely because of co-founder and chairman Glen D. Macdonald, who has made it his labor of love and gift to the world. It’s a small jewel of an outfit.

The Wealth & Giving Forum’s event theme on Wednesday was the epiphany – that intuitive insight into reality that usually inspires action. Bruce DeBoskey, president and founder of The DeBoskey Group, a Colorado-based consulting firm for philanthropists, started the night with a riveting story about the time he went backpacking through Turkey in his 20s. On that trip, DeBoskey witnessed an entire village physically taunting and mocking a mentally-simple man the same age as DeBoskey. The villagers threw rocks at the bewildered young fellow, poked him with sticks, put a bag over his head.

Afraid the mob would turn on him if he spoke up, DeBoskey walked away from the scene, uttering a prayer, as he left, “that god will help me never to be a bystander again.” It was his epiphany and led him to become an acclaimed trial lawyer “raging against the machine” and a philanthropist. He could not speak of the horrific event he witnessed for 40 years, even though the vision of that tortured young man “worked in me – and continues to work on me in powerful ways.”

What followed that evening were similarly inspiring tales by Katie Meyler, the founder of the More Than Me Foundation, who, among other things, is shaking up Liberia’s education system; Gary Oppenheimer, a self-confessed New Jersey gardener geek who has built a Web-based platform at Ampleharvest.org that allows amateur gardeners to deliver their surplus produce to food pantries around the country; Tom Rutledge, a hedge-fund fixed income manager who is also the chairman of GiveWell.org; and the overachieving Chandrika Tandon, who is a Grammy-nominated composer and vocalist, after she had a Blue Chip business career that included a long stint as a McKinsey & Co. partner.

But my favorite speaker of the night was Walter D. Woods, a high-ranking executive at AARP before having a crisis of the soul when he entered his 50s. A cri de coeur led him to a two-week horse trek through Mongolia — and his epiphany.

The sheer stamina and endurance needed on that trip reintroduced him to his “timeless self,” he says, and, back in Washington D.C., it led him to a career change. He is now devoted, as president of The Good Samaritan Foundation, to helping the elderly in our nation find their resilience and “feel loved, valued, and at peace” – those intangible psychic bedrocks that his own parents instilled in him as a child.

My heavy tread of just a few days ago is both lighter and more determined.

 

 

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